Next generation leadership in early education

During a session on Building the Next Generation of Inclusion Leaders at the 2015 National Inclusion Institute, a young woman, teaching in an early education inclusion program, shared a dilemma that has stayed with me for days. Kira (not her real name) bravely disclosed her struggle to be taken seriously as a new person entering the field by more experienced colleagues content with the status quo. Her commitment and passion were as evident as her frustration and disillusionment. “What does it take for me to be welcomed into the profession and seen as someone who has something positive to contribute?” she wondered. “I almost feel invisible.” It is a travesty that anyone should be made to feel this way, and I fear she is not alone in her experience.

Preschool classroom


Reluctance to embrace new people with new ideas and practices can be a powerful reason so many young or new-to-field teachers are exiting the field, with estimates that one-third of all new teachers leave after three years, and almost half are gone within five years. It’s costing us dearly in both dollars and unrealized potential. How can we build the leaders needed for our field when we cannot even assure a safe foothold for our newest practitioners to gain valuable experience? How do we achieve our vision and who will guide us? Where is the leadership?

Kira’s dilemma is an example of what Ron Heifetz terms an “adaptive challenge” (others call it a “wicked problem”), where solutions not currently available to vexing problems will require innovation, new thinking, and adjustments on all levels, particularly by those experiencing the problem. Kira’s predicament begs the question about cultivating early education leadership for the 21st century, a topic many early education leaders in state departments of education will examine at CEELO’s upcoming Leading for Excellence 2015 National Roundtable in New Orleans.

When Kira bared her soul that day, it was heartening to see how quickly she developed a circle of support and acceptance from a roomful of participants who applauded her courage and lent encouragement to stay the course to follow her dreams. I hope Kira returned to her center realizing that she is part of the solution she seeks. It may not have been comfortable, but it was worth the risk. And this is precisely what the next generation of inclusion leaders looks like.

–Jim Squires, Senior Research Fellow

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